Chair in Development Neurobiology

BSc Medical Sciences (Aberdeen, 1991), PhD (Aberdeen, 1994)


Contact Details

Telephone: +44 (0)1224 437324
+44 (0)1224 437314
Address: Room 2:30:1
Institute of Medical Sciences
School Of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition
University of Aberdeen
AB25 2ZD


BSc (1991) Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen

PhD (1994) Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Aberdeen with Professor Colin McCaig studying electric field-induced nerve guidance.

1994 - 1997 Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London with Dr Jonathan Clarke studying cell fate determination in the embryonic hindbrain and spinal cord.

1998 - 2001 Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Pathology, Columbia University, USA with Professor Carol Mason studying molecular basis of axon guidance at the developing optic chiasm (funded by EMBO and HFSPO Long-Term Fellowships).

2001 -2007 Lecturer, Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London

August 2007 Senior Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen

August 2012 Professor of Developmental Neurobiology, School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Research Interests

Development of the visual system
Vision is our most precious sense and work in my lab is aimed at unravelling the processes that sculpt early visual system development.

A major focus of out work is the cellular and molecular mechanisms that guide retinal axons from the eye to their targets in the brain.  Of particular interest is the events that occur at the optic chiasm.  This is an important midline choice point where retinal ganglion cell axons from each eye select whether to project to targets on the same or opposite side of the brain.  This simple binary choice in pathway decision has made the optic chiasm one of the most popular and informative model systems for studying guidance decisions.  This sorting of axons at the chiasm also has an important physiological significance and is essential for the establishment of binocular vision.  In conditions such as albinism in which the crossing at the chiasm occurs abnormally the ability to see in depth is impaired severely.  We have identified a number of signalling molecules essential for optic chiasm development including the Roundabouts (Robos)/Slits and Ephs/ephrins.  Our ongoing work is aimed at further understanding the function of these molecules during chiasm formation and identifying other guidance signals critical for optic chiasm formation.  We also are studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying guidance in other regions of the developing optic pathway such as the retina and optic tract.

Developing optic chiasm. Wholemount view
showing the axons of retinal ganglion cells
(red) as they exit the eye and segregate at the
optic chiasm into the ipsilateral and
contralateral optic tracts.

The other main interest in my lab is the potential role of the lens as a signalling centre controlling key aspects of visual system development.  We have found that the lens secretes signalling molecules essential for the normal development of the eye as well as for the initial guidance of retinal ganglion cell axons.  This has important implications for our understanding of microphthalmia (small eye), anophthalmia (no eye) and the rare condition of aphakia (no lens).  Our ongoing work is aimed at determining the molecular nature of the signals secreted by the lens and their role in sculpting normal visual system development.

Section of the developing eye showing the
relationship between the lens, neural retina
and axons of retinal ganglion cells (green)
as they navigate towards the optic disc and
out of the eye.

Current Research Funding

BBSRC  Project Grant (Principle Investigator; Held jointly with Professor Christiana Ruhrberg, UCL Institute of ophthalmology). 

Understanding the function and signalling mechanisms of VEGF-A and VEGF-C in optic chiasm development (From April 2012).


Equipment grant from the R.S. Macdonald Charitable Trust

Membership of Professional Organisations

Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 

British Society for Developmental Biology (Committee Member)

International Society for Neurochemistry

Scottish Developmental Biology Group (Committee Member)

Society for Neuroscience

Positions available for PhD students.

I am looking for motivated, self-funded PhD students to join my group. Projects are available to study:

1. Mechanisms of axon growth and guidance

2. Nerve-blood vessel interactions during development

3. Eye development


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